The most common question I get as a chi arts instructor is, “What’s the difference between qigong and tai chi?” My response is always the same, “They have more in common than they do different from each other and it’s often hard to tell the difference just by watching.“ Both recognize and utilize the invisible life force energy known as chi/qi. Qigong exercises are frequently used as warm-ups for tai chi practice but qigong is also practiced on its own for its various healing benefits.
QIGONG (pronounced chee gong)
Since qigong is the older of the two, let’s start there. Qigong (qi gong = chi kung =Ki kung) is often called energy medicine, energy healing or energy work. Qigong is somewhere between 5,000 - 10,000 years old, depending on the source you consult. There are over 3,000 recognized systems of qigong but all share the same four tools.
Qigong tools: 1. Breath work 2. Special movements 3. Visualization 4. Massage
Qigong puts a lot more emphasis on breath work than tai chi does. Qigong is NOT a martial art even though many martial artists use it to enhance their training, particularly their focus and core strength. Qigong is recognized as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine and can be prescribed as medicine for particular dis-eases and conditions. The principles of tai chi do not always apply to qigong as qigong can be flowing or still, fast or slow and some exercises are done seated or with eyes barely open, which is not the case with a martial art. Qigong movements are often repeated over and over again to achieve a meditative, healing state. Research indicates that qigong and tai chi share very similar benefits. Having taught both now for over a decade I’ve found that most newbies to chi arts resonate a little more with qigong than tai chi. People who have some martial arts or dance background often find tai chi more their style as they appreciate learning a sequence of steps to create a full-body flow.
TAI CHI (pronounced tie chee)
Tai chi chuan (tai chi = Taiji) is much younger than qigong and means literally “grand ultimate exercise.” Harvard Health has dubbed tai chi “moving medication,” a play on the more popular moniker of “moving meditation,” because of the myriad of healing chemicals unleashed in the mindbody when practicing tai chi. Depending on the source you consult, tai chi can be listed anywhere from 800 to 2,000 years old. There are five major recognized systems of tai chi (and many less known systems) all of which share the same basic principles.
Tai Chi Principles: 1. Flow continuously like water in a gentle stream 2. Soong - active relaxation of muscles so joints open 3. Recognize and harmonize yin and yang (or perceive both the left and right, top and bottom, front and back, inside and outside all at the same time) 4. Align the spine with the head held upright, chin level with the ground 5. Use will and not physical force to connect with chi/life force energy 6. Stay mindfully focused on every aspect of your practice, be sincere.
While tai chi is sometimes viewed as a slow-motion martial art, it can also be viewed as a very complex way of practicing qigong or energy healing. When the practioner is focused on the chi aspects more than how the body moves through space, then the entire mindbody is being utilized in harmony with itself and the natural flowing rhythms of the universe that help keep us healthy and aligned with our world. Some people practice tai chi only for health, some strictly for the martial arts applications. The diversity of what tai chi offers can only be found by delving beneath the sheer physical aspects of the practice.
Research often shows that tai chi offers more cognitive benefits than qigong because of having to learn and remember a series of complex movements in tai chi routines. Because many qigong exercises are done without moving the feet in contrast to tai chi’s “fancy footwork,” tai chi typically imparts more functional mobility and balance improvement benefits than the more still, meditative stances of qigong. Qigong typically puts us more in direct connection with our life giving breath than tai chi does. Both have numerous mindbody benefits that go beyond the data of research results to include better connection to one’s self. If chi arts didn’t work, they wound not have lasted through the centuries. No one needs to be a master to improve their own lives. The chi arts welcome all and impart the same healing benefits to all who choose to engage them.
Here is a sample of a ”typical” beginner qigong routine:
Here is a sample of a ”beginner” level tai chi routine:
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Here is my all time favorite qigong practice. I hope you love it and yourself enough to use it every day! https://youtu.be/q5OAC7a5sW8
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